Everybody's favorite Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress disorder is back.

Before the smirking starts, let's not forget that they also were giggling when it was announced that the Italian Stallion was coming out of retirement, but then Sylvester Stallone silenced the skeptics with the thoroughly respectable "Rocky Balboa."

Could the first sighting of John J. Rambo in two decades prove equally rewarding?

Oh well, one out of two ain't bad.

For "Rambo," the fourth and purportedly final movie in the series that began back in 1982 with "First Blood," director/co-writer Stallone has taken a similar, stripped-down approach to the material.

But what worked for the beloved underdog does the one-man killing machine no favors.

By going the unplugged route, Stallone has removed the over-the-top comic book element that made the "Rambo" movies such a pop cultural staple of the Reagan era.

What remains is a lot of hyper-realistic, brutal violence; snatches of banal dialogue; and all the escalating dramatic tension of a video game.

In short, No. 4 is one big snore.

Considering the cold shoulder given to recent war-related movies, "Rambo," with its guerrilla-style marketing campaign, could find that a blotchy iconic image might not be much of a domestic draw beyond nostalgia seekers.

Given Rambo's standing as a worldwide phenomenon, however, the movie's 11 executive producers should still be pleased with those final tallies.

The last time we saw Rambo, he was kicking butt in Afghanistan.

Since that time he has been laying low in northern Thailand, minding his business as a longboat driver on the Salween River and wrangling boa constrictors for snake fights.

But when a group of human rights missionaries gets caught in the crossfire of the still-raging Burmese-Karen civil war, Rambo ultimately rises to the challenge. Accompanied by a group of mercenaries, he soon finds himself ripping out a guy's throat with his bare hands, just like the good old days.

Also, just like the good old days, Rambo remains the strong, silent type, which ensures that speeches like, "When you're pushed, killin' is as easy as breathin'," are kept to a grateful minimum.

The other trite characters in the Stallone- and Art Monterastelli-penned script aren't so lucky, which makes it easier not to become emotionally invested when a good portion of them are beheaded or vivisected or blown to bits by the intense, bloody violence.

It's ironically the only thing that's really alive in this otherwise dull film.

From an audience point of view, you wish Stallone had instead headed in the other direction, pulling out all stops and going out a blaze of glory, taking a page out of the John McClane playbook for last year's guilty-pleasure "Die Hard" revival.

Instead Stallone is intent on showing the introspective, vulnerable man behind the legend, stripping him of most of that showy '80s gear (but allowing him to keep his shirt on) and ending on a sun-drenched, silly coda during which a weary Rambo discovers that you can go home again.

Sorry Sly, not this time.

The Weinstein Co./Equity Prods./Millennium Films/Nu Image
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Screenwriters: Art Monterastelli, Sylvester Stallone
Based on characters created by: David Morrell
Producers: Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton, John Thompson
Executive producers: Jon Feltheimer, Peter Block, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Danny Dimbort, Boaz Davidson, Trevor Short, Andreas Thiesmeyer, Florian Lechner, Randall Emmett, George Furla
Director of photography: Glen MacPherson
Production designer: Franco Giacomo Carbone
Music: Brian Tyler
Costume designer: Lizz Wolf
Editor: Sean Albertson
John Rambo: Sylvester Stallone
Sarah Miller: Julie Benz
Dr. Michael Burnett: Paul Schulze
School Boy: Matthew Marsden
Lewis: Graham McTavish
Arthur Marsh: Ken Howard
Running time -- 93 minutes
MPAA rating: R